Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Striving to prevent foal pneumonia

News that a vaccine against Rhodococcus equi is entering the final stages of development offers the hope of preventing this serious respiratory condition of foals.

R equi causes chronic broncho-pneumonia with abscesses in the lungs, typically affecting foals less than six months old. Other forms of the disease occur including infection of the intestine and lymph nodes.

Rhodococcus equi does not only infect horses. It is an opportunistic human pathogen associated with diseases that result in suppression of the immune system.

The organism is found in soil, especially in the presence of horse faeces, which provides the substrate on which it feeds. It is well equipped to resist desiccation. Foals are infected by inhaling contaminated dust.

Treatment is difficult. The organism is resistant to many common antibiotics. It lives within the macrophages, making it difficult for antibiotics to reach it.  A long course of suitable antibiotics - such as erythromycin and rifampin - is required to effect a cure.

As yet there is no effective vaccine. However, on January 27, 2011, Intervet / Schering-Plough Animal Health announced that a vaccine against Rhodococcus equi infection in foals was entering the final stages of development.

The vaccine is based on a special non-pathogenic strain of the bacterium. Four genes have been deleted from its genome, to make the bacterium incapable of causing disease, but still able to stimulate immunity.

Preliminary studies have shown that the genetically modified strain is safe, and unable to cause disease in foals as well as in calves chickens, pigs rats and mice.

Approval has now been given for field trials to commence. These will start shortly in Germany. In the first phase of the study, a group of foals will be vaccinated with the candidate vaccine and will be compared to a group of non-vaccinated foals. The number of R equi infections will be evaluated in each group.

An effective vaccine against R equi would be a great step forward in the control of this disease.

see: http://www.equinescienceupdate.com/articles/revt.html

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